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67 BizEd November/ December 2014 A New Accreditation Paradigm And yet, I believe there is a powerful way that accredita- tion can maintain its role as guarantor of quality, pro- mote program differentiation, and support true innova- tion: It can begin to accredit courses, not programs. I'm not alone in this. David Bergeron, the former acting assistant secretary for postsecondary educa- tion at the U.S. Department of Education, and Steven Klinsky, a financier and philanthropist, recently wrote an article in Inside Higher Ed proposing that higher education accrediting bodies accredit specific courses. (Read their article "Debt-Free Degrees" at www. innovation-focused-accreditor.) This approach would fit brilliantly with the second purpose of accreditation: to support business development by facilitating reliable component standardization. Organizations that set standards for components have an important place in history. The International Standardization Organization (ISO) was born in 1947 to coordinate organizations that produced different components in technology-heavy industries. If AACSB pursued course-based accreditation, it could claim incontrovertibly that it is embracing the market disrup- tion underway in higher education. In some ways, course-based accreditation would be similar to the competency-based educational model that the EU uses to allow students to move easily between universities in different nations. For instance, course-based accreditation would allow students to stop, slow down, or speed up their educational prog- ress as needed. It would allow just-in-time education, where students don't pursue degrees so much as the information they need when they need it. Course-based accreditation also would stimulate col- laboration and differentiation among business schools. Business School A might concentrate its resources on developing a specialty in big data, for instance. Know- ing that its students could go to School A to learn this critical topic, administrators at Business Schools B and C could focus on their own specializations. At the same time, course-based accreditation might protect business schools from the threat of mergers. Business schools struggling to cover costs could let go of schoolwide accreditation and focus on promoting enrollment in, and revenue from, a handful of superla- tive accredited courses or short course sequences. In fact, course-based accreditation is a logical exten- sion of a plan proposed by Alice Stewart of North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, who won first place in the Graduate Management Admis- sion Council's Ideas to Innovation Challenge in 2011. She suggested "stackable knowledge units" that would allow master's-level students to build educational plans that both fit their career interests and suit the needs of the market. These standalone chunks of education, as she envisioned them, would allow students to build graduate degrees across universities, state systems, or consortia. (See i2i-challenge-winner-alice-stewart-stackable/.) Creating "stackable" courses is also one of the ideas the Massachusetts Institute of Technology might con- sider in coming years. In August, the school released an extensive report from its Institute-Wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education, which concluded that the school's future will be global, modular, and flex- ible. In recommending that the school offer modular classes, the report noted that "unbundling" is a larger trend within society. "A number of other media offer- ings have become available in modules, whether it is a song from an album, an article from a newspaper, or a chapter from a textbook." (See the full report at web. Offering and accrediting courses instead of programs might be a radical concept, but if business schools are to face the coming disruptions in the market, they need to consider new models for delivering education. Evolving with the Industry Until such measures become common, individual schools can take small steps to promote innovation on their campuses. At my own institution, the Providence College School of Business, we took an empty endowed chair and, instead of defining it around a discipline, we searched for a senior professor with experience in busi- ness education innovation. We also have launched a Business Education Innovation Center. Accreditation plays an important role in ensuring that the quality of higher education remains consistent and reliable. But "consistent" and "reliable" are not words generally associated with innovation. Business is evolving every day, and business education must evolve with it to retain relevance in the market. Sylvia Maxfield is professor and dean of the Providence College School of Business in Rhode Island.

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